With Hariri Out, Can New PM Navigate Lebanon’s Political Minefields?

Dramatic events and developments have been unfolding in Lebanon over the past week, with frantic efforts to get the small Mediterranean country of its current political bottleneck. Lebanon has been troubled with crippling popular protests now in their eighth week running. Road blockades and economic collapse loom around every corner.

Since the resignation of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri on November 4 the resignation of his Cabinet was a prominent demand for protesters. The nation has witnessed mounting tension as well as a number of violent incidents since that time, with many signs reminiscent of the catastrophic Civil War that ravaged Lebanon for 15 years, ending in 1990.

Hariri’s Fall from Saudi and US Grace

Hariri’s downfall came as a result of several factors and considerations as he faced a near-impossible task following his initial re-selection as PM designate. He found himself sandwiched between the US-led rock and the pro-Iranian Resistance hard place; failing to satisfy either of the two main camps or fulfill their preconditions for the formation of a new government, Hariri was forced to withdraw from the race in a dramatic fall from Saudi, French and American grace that could virtually spell the end of the Hariri political dynasty in Lebanon forever. Paradoxically enough, his resignation generated an immediate mixed reaction of jubilation and clashes among Lebanese protesters who included some of his supporters.

What has surprised many observers of the Lebanese political scene over the past few weeks has been the intensive role played by both Russia and Egypt in order to prevent what seemed like Lebanon’s inevitable and fast-moving slide into political vacuum along with the chaos, violence and potential new civil war it would almost definitely entail. Although a tangible amount of such fears is still alive and kicking in the minds of many Lebanese and foreign nationals, the mere breakthrough agreement on a new Prime Minister designate has raised hopes that, at long last, an opening has been made that could lead Lebanon out of the deadlocked political arena, and avert a tragic fall into mayhem and violence that would serve no one except for Lebanon’s enemies.

Who Will Replace Hariri?

A number of replacement candidates put forward by the Lebanese Sunni community were rejected by Lebanon’s political power brokers as well as by some major regional and international governments who still have a say in the Lebanese political life, mainly Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, France and the United States. The streets’ abrupt flare-up against PM designate Hassan Diab and in support of Hariri took place as US special envoy David Hill was concluding his controversial visit to Lebanon. Hill insinuated that Washington is not against Diab’s nomination, but has its own conditions regarding the shape and program of the new government.

New PM’s  Opportunities, Challenges and Platform

White smoke came out of the presidential palace in Baabda, Thursday, as Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated former education minister and professor at the AUB (American University of Beirut) Hassan Diab as the country’s next prime minister. Diab, who has limited political experience as many Lebanese point out, and is believed to have the backing of Hezbollah and its allies, was designated as the next premier after receiving a majority of votes in the Lebanese parliament, defeating the only other contender for the post, US-backed Nawaf Salam.

While this breakthrough could contribute to the diffusion of an explosive political situation in Lebanon, made much worse and more costly by one of the most daunting economic crises in the nation’s modern history, it is most likely not going to be particularly helpful in getting the badly-needed international aid Lebanon has been striving to get at this extremely crucial phase. Foreign donor nations have already threatened to withhold any financial pledges to Lebanon, unless certain political as well as major economic reforms are implemented.

Can Diab Release Lebanon from Intensive Care?

The controversy over a new government expected to be dominated by Hezbollahwhich is branded a “terror organization” by the US and Arab Gulf stateswill further complicate Lebanon’s efforts and plea for international support. How the new prime minister and his cabinet plan to overcome such high hurdles remains anybody’s wild guess. Last week, the most powerful figure in Lebanon, many argue, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said his party was looking forward to forming a new national unity government. He had opposed Hariri’s resignation, and blamed the political vacuum for exacerbating the country’s economic crisis.

Following parliamentary consultations, the new prime minister Diab stated that he had heard very encouraging and supportive words from Speaker Nabih Barri, as well as the caretaker of prime minister Hariri, regarding a speedy process of government formation. Diab pointed out that the common denominator among all MPs he met and consulted with, was ” the need to get out of the stifling crisis Lebanon is enduring.” Replying to a reporter’s question regarding his political cover, Diab said: “My only cover is that I am an independent person who seeks nothing personal. What we need are independent and specialist ministers. I hope that we shall all put our hands together because Lebanon is currently at the Intensive Care Unit!” Diab concluded. Let’s all hope.